Now, it’s time for the ultimate battle: “Parks” versus “Office,” which television sitcom reigns supreme? I stake my claim with “Parks and Recreation” but, “The Office” is quite the staple in TV comedy. It’s unlikely you’ll make it through your updated twitter timeline without seeing a GIF or image of an “Office” quote. The show is known for its use of the “mockumentary” style of television comedy, where the show is filmed as if it’s a day-in-the-life type documentary and includes things such as the characters having camera awareness or the iconic talking head interview. It’s a style that many have adapted and is seen more often on television, but “The Office” pretty much revolutionized it.
To me, “The Office” has always been the show I’d put on when I needed background noise or simply didn’t feel the need to get invested in what I was watching. I’m not going to deny the sitcom’s talent and humor. “Office” has made me laugh on plenty of occasions and some scenes stand out as comedic high points, such as the First Aid Fail where Michael Scott is learning first aid techniques but everything quickly breaks out into chaos. “The Office” earned its popularity for good reasons but, it doesn’t shine in quite the same ways that “Parks and Recreation” does.
“Parks and Rec” won over my heart about two years ago. At first, it was just something to bide the time (it was the show I watched while ignoring my U.S. History teacher), but as I kept watching season after season, I fell in love. The humor, the uplifting spirit and the story drew me in and kept me entertained from beginning to end, but more than that, I felt connected to the characters, which is an important aspect of any great show. I find that if I can’t root for or support a character, then I’m essentially wasting my time watching the show because it is the fine line between a good show vs. a great show.
The characters are “Parks and Rec’s” biggest asset, and arguably, the biggest one that puts them above “The Office.” Each one of the characters has their own personality and their interactions with each other are the driving force of the story. It’s easy to connect with them and want to see them succeed, because there are so many distinct personalities spanned across different characters that you likely can relate yourself to one specific character or a combination of a few. A wider cast means a wider audience can relate.
The main character, Leslie Knope, is passionate, driven, optimistic and hard working. Leslie’s growth comes from learning from the people around her. Her tendency to do wacky schemes to achieve her goals, something she has in common with Michael, is constantly relegated by her friends, most often Ann and Ben. Still, her character is quite inspiring, as Leslie repeatedly deals with some ungrateful people (oh, citizens of Pawnee) and awful situations, but she manages to find the best in things and is able to come out on the other end truthfully happy. She is the heart of both the show and the city of Pawnee.
Her “Office” equivalent, of course, would be Michael Scott, as they both fulfill the role of the boss. While Leslie’s character revolves around her love of work, meaning she actually manages to get things done, and honestly without her, the Parks Department wouldn’t be as successful, Michael’s character tends to be inept when it comes to working. Michael, unlike Leslie, has a hard time connecting with people, which is probably why he’s kind of awful at being a manager. Either way, the bumbling boss caricature makes him quite funny, but also leaves his character feeling rather shallow, whereas everything Leslie does comes from a place of sincerity, making her sweet personality much more likable.
Another character that stands out is Ron Swanson, and in my opinion, he is the best character out of both “The Office” and “Parks and Rec.” Ron is a blunt libertarian with clear standards for his own way of life. His very existence exudes alpha male. Despite his rigid standards, Ron grows quite a bit as a character too, but that only makes him even better. Ron’s love for Lagavulin Whisky and hatred of the government never cease, but he develops meaningful relationships with a select few that bring his protective walls down just slightly.
Dwight Schrute would be Ron’s “Office” counterpart, but not so much in personality. Dwight is a beet farmer who, despite acting as if he knows it all, is rather quite naïve, which is why Jim has such a good time pulling pranks on him. He spends a lot of time ass-kissing towards Michael because he wishes to be seen as a second-in-command, which makes him pretty good at his job. All of this Ron would frankly despise. Rather, it is the role they play in line with the other characters. Both characters exist in extremes, making them so uniquely different than everyone else, and this is what makes them so likeable.
As I mentioned, it’s not just the characters that make the show interesting, but their interactions with each other, too. The sense of family created by the characters within the Pawnee Parks Department is sincere and heartfelt and part of what makes the ending of the series so heartbreaking. When I watched the finale, I didn’t just tear up; I cried. Only because the characters are one’s I connected with so much, watching their friendships and relationships develop and grow was amazing.
The strength of the “Parks” relationships is another reason why it reaches above “The Office.” Of course, there is Leslie and Ann’s friendship, which began when Leslie wanted to build a park in the lot behind Ann’s house, but Ann demanded otherwise. From that moment on, their relationship grew into a strong, supportive friendship between the two and led to the heartbreak of fans when Ann moved away in season 6.
Ben and Leslie are probably one of my favorite TV couples, yet when they first met they hated each other. Ben tries to stop Leslie from her plans to put on a children’s concert in the lot behind Ann’s house, but he inevitably changes his mind when he sees the amount of work she puts into it. In season 3, Leslie begins to develop feelings for him, but Chris, who is the City Manager and Leslie’s boss, has a rule about dating within the office. This dynamic is what gets their relationship rolling, but once it’s overcome, they become a loving and happy couple. Ben’s calm demeanor contrasts Leslie’s tendencies to become over-excitable. Their relationship is absolutely adorable and their spontaneous wedding warmed the hearts of viewers.
In contrast, Jim and Pam’s relationship would most likely be the counterpart to Ben and Leslie’s, as both their relationships are central to each show’s story, but Jim and Pam fail to be as wholesome in my eyes. Their getting together was inevitable from the beginning of the show and the audience could very well guess that they would end up together. Jim had a clear romantic interest in her that was unnoticed by Pam due to the fact she was in an eight-year long relationship with Roy Anderson, three of which they were engaged. His unrequited feelings drive a stronger connection between the two of them. Jim dates other women, seemingly only to use them to get closer to Pam, and Pam, even after learning about his feelings, pushes him away.
Their relationship consumes their entire being as characters, especially Jim. His only drive is to be with Pam: Jim doesn’t have any personal goals for his future until Pam is finally with him and his entire character arc is changed, so now he suddenly must have goals as part of his character (rather than remaining content at the paper company). Pam, on the other hand, started out with the goal of becoming an artist in New York, but those were effectively destroyed when Jim couldn’t stand their separation, so he proposed to her to bring her back to Scranton. Ben and Leslie, too, were separated for a good amount of time, but they were both living their dream lives. Leslie is a City Councilor and Ben works for a congressional campaign out of D.C. They struggled with the distance, but it didn’t stop them from achieving things on their own. Even more, Ben’s proposal is due to their growth as people and within their relationship rather than, like Jim, a way to stop the pain of Pam being off on her own while he continued his daily grind.
Between unique characters and well-developed relationships, “Parks” creates a more compelling story. It incorporates the setting in a way that makes the city and people of Pawnee essential to the story. “The Office” relies heavily on cringe humor, which can become a little unbearable after some time, but “Parks” uses slapstick humor and positivity in a way that’s enjoyable and easy to watch. The positivity of the whole of “Parks” is the main reason I love it so much. Many shows that are on television now are bleak and nihilistic, and even “The Office” has a more pessimistic view of things, simply dealing with the way things are, but “Parks” shows how it is possible to fight against such dismal ways of life.
I believe wholeheartedly that “Parks and Recreation” is the shining star of these two comedies. With its positivity, good-naturedness mixed with strong characters and all out hilarity, the show brings together all the strong points of television comedy. Just as the great Ron Swanson says: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing,” and nothing about this wonderful, quirky show is half-assed.